Finding the right fit for your college football program isn't just about what happens on the field, but off it as well. Today, Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State landed a commitment this evening from one of the state's top-rated players when Cleveland Height four-star defensive end Tyreke Smith pledged his services to the Buckeyes during the Under Armour All-America Game.
Let's take a look at what Smith — the fourth-best weak-side defensive end and No. 60 prospect overall in the Class of 2018 — brings to Columbus.
ON THE FIELD
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Smith is extremely athletic for his size, which is what allowed him to transition from basketball to football seamlessly during his junior year of high school.
“The biggest thing was getting a better understanding of the game,” Cleveland Heights head coach Mac Stephens told Eleven Warriors. “His junior year, he was just playing on pure athletic ability, whereas his senior year, it was more about understanding how teams were attacking him. His junior year, nobody knew who he was, really. And then his senior year, he was getting double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed. He had to learn how to recognize those things.”
That quick development turned Smith from a raw prospect with a ton of upside to one of the most coveted defensive ends in the country, with programs like Alabama, Oregon, Penn State and USC all pushing for his pledge.
Smith finished his senior season with 70 total tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 22 quarterback hurries, 11 sacks and six pass break ups. He was named the Division I Co-Defensive Player of the Year, which he shared with Michigan State safety signee Xavier Henderson, who played at Pickerington North; the USA Today All-Ohio Defensive Player of the Year; and a finalist for Ohio's Mr. Football as a result.
Not bad for someone who didn't play football two years ago.
With that said, Smith is still somewhat raw in terms of his technique. He has a quick burst off the snap and is physically able to overpower offensive tackles at the high school level, but developing quick hands and proper footwork will help immensely.
“[He excels most at] getting after the quarterback. He has an inate ability to put pressure on the quarterback position,” Stephens said. “He's hard to block one-on-one, and I think — even on the college level — it'll be difficult to block him. He's just so physically gifted, he's quick for his size and he has a very good get off on the ball. But once he learns how to utilize his hands and feet, I think he's going to be unstoppable.”
IN THE CLASS
Smith becomes the 22nd member of Ohio State's Supreme '18 recruiting class, and joins Pickerington North three-star signee Alex Williams at the defensive end position.
With Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes having exhausted their eligibility and Sam Hubbard declaring for the NFL Draft following Friday's Cotton Bowl win over USC, defensive end is without a doubt a position of great need. Head coach Urban Meyer mentioned during his Early Signing Period press conference that Williams may actually start his career on offense, which means Smith, Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young would be the only defensive ends on the Buckeyes' roster.
Ohio State also hopes to land a commitment from New Jersey four-star defensive end Jayson Oweh later this evening, as well. He'll announce his decision sometime in the second half of the Under Armour game, but is widely expected to choose Penn State.
If that happens, the will focus its efforts on fellow New Jersey four-star Tyler Friday, who has seemingly been trending toward Michigan since his recruitment began but was impressed by his official visit in November. Greg Schiano has deep ties at Friday's high school, though, as his coach, Mike Teel, played for the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator at Rutgers.
He isn't expected to make a decision until the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 7.
Smith has little to prove when he showed up to Ohio State's one-day camp in June, so he used the camp as an opportunity to mingle with some of his soon-to-be future teammates like running back Jaelen Gill and linebacker Dallas Gant. He also spent a significant amount of time with defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who pulled him to the side for some one-on-one instruction.
None of that was the talk of camp, though. Instead, it was Smith's shirt that grabbed everyone's attention.
It was a powerful message from a 17-year-old kid who saw an opportunity to bring attention to a cause he believes in.
“Tyreke is a 4.0 student, he's a great kid, doesn't get in trouble, is very aware of the platform that he has, he carries himself well and he's just what you want to build a football program around,” Stephens said. “Obviously, us losing him at Cleveland Heights is a major loss. It's not so much because of the football aspect, but it's just because of the type of young man he is.”
Most people who saw the shirt reacted in a positive manner, as Smith and his older brother, Malik, were selling them with hopes of using the proceeds to start a scholarship fund for a local high school student. But the message wasn't always received as intended, and Smith bore the brunt of some pretty nasty remarks on social media.
“I was disappointed in how the adults that interviewed him or that critiqued him handled it,” Stephens said. “Whether you agreed or disagreed with the message that was on the shirt, the one thing that was consistent about Tyreke was that he remained academically strong, he remained socially responsible and he gave everything he had on the football field. He never changed who he was.
“All that I was looking at was a teenager who was making a statement from his heart, and I think that he carried himself well. He got through all of that. I was worried about it becoming a distraction, to be quite honest, but he continued to work hard and ended up having a great season. I marveled at how he handled that because I got worried after a point that it was going to start snowballing, but he handled it like a champ.”